APRIL FOOL’S DAY: Love it or Hate it

by | Apr 1, 2020 | Chris Goff, The Writer's Life | 4 comments

When things don’t seem very funny (such as our current situation), my main fall back has been humor. Like cops and doctors fall back on black humor, I’ve passed along my share of toilet paper jokes in the past few weeks. But, as the days drag on and it becomes harder to laugh, I turned my attention to April Fool’s Day. 
It’s been around for centuries.

But why? 

Traditionally, April 1st has been a day for practical jokes. Some people play elaborate pranks. Others make an attempt, yelling “April Fools!” at the end of the joke—either to clue in the clueless or grab for recognition of their cleverness. 
Some historians speculate it may date back to 1582 when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. In the Julian calendar, the new year begins with the spring equinox. People who were slow to get the news, continued to celebrate the New Year and soon found themselves the butt of jokes. Called “April Fools,” the pranks included having paper fish put on their backs and being called “poisson d’avril” (April fish). 
Other historians have linked April Fool’s Day to festivals such as Hilaria, celebrated in ancient Rome at the end of March by cult followers. It involved people dressing up in disguises and mocking fellow citizens, and believed to be inspired by Egyptian legend.
Or maybe it has to do with the changing and unpredictable weather around the end of March.
And it continued to evolve.
In Scotland, the tradition became a two-day event, starting with the “hunting of the gowk.” People were sent on phony errands (gowk being a word for the cuckoo bird), followed by having fake tails or kick me signs pinned on their backside.
Even newspapers, radio and tv stations have joined in the fun. In 1957, the BBC reported that Swiss farmers where experiencing record spaghetti crops and showed people harvesting noodles from trees. In 1996, Taco Bell, duped people when it claimed to have purchased the Liberty Bell, intending to rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. 
Growing up one of my favorite shows was Candid Camera. We’ve all had those moments. I think of the time I was in the McDonald’s line and the truck in front of me had such a long cab I couldn’t pull up to the speaker. The kid inside asked, “Can I take your order?” I said, “I’m not at the speaker.” He said, “What?” I said, “I’m not at the speaker.” He said, “That’s okay, I can hear you.” So, I rattled off my order, and he said, “What?”
As the mother of six, I’ve seen a lot of tricks. Most of us have fallen victim to saran wrapped toilet seats, loosened caps on the salt shaker. My personal favorite, the April 1 that I stumbled my way to the kitchen to get coffee. I readied the pot, walked to the sink to get water for the coffee pot and was drenched by the sprayer on the sink. My youngest daughter had wrapped a rubber band around the sprayer. She got her father, one sister and me. And all of us, in order, changed our clothes and rewrapped the rubberband around the handle. When the kid finally got up, what did she do? She stumbled down to the kitchen, flipped on the faucet and got soaked. “April Fools!”
Here’s what a few of the Rogues had to share.

Lisa: I believe there’s two kinds of people in the world: those who like practical jokes and those who don’t. I have to admit, I’m in the latter camp. Don’t like them, have never played them on others, would not be amused if one were played on me. I think “Candid Camera”-type TV and radio shows are just mean. I probably get this from my parents, who laughed a great deal, just not at that type of thing.

The only time I remember a friend playing a joke on me was in grade school, when, since I didn’t care for peanut butter and jelly, only open-face peanut butter breads which were difficult to pack, I would eat a hard-boiled egg for lunch every day. (Believe it or not my cholesterol levels have not yet killed me!) My father would make me single-serving packets of salt by folding the edges of a piece of aluminum foil, and my girlfriend made a fake one containing sugar. It only took one bite to figure that out!

Gayle: Until Chris asked about pranks, I thought I was pretty funny. I still smile at silly old poems: “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, please be neat and wipe the seat.” That bit of advice was scrawled on a wall in the boys’ latrine one long-ago summer. (Well, okay, I thought it was very funny at the time.)
I also chuckle at dumb jokes: “What d’you have when you’ve got one green ball in one hand, and another green ball in the other hand?” Answer: “The Jolly Green Giant, right where you want him!” Pause here and imagine the hilarity erupting from college girls in jammies who’d never heard that one before.

So my problem is, I truly don’t understand what’s funny about a prank. Really! I’m eager to read – and laugh – at what the other Rogues have to say!

Karna: I haven’t tried to pull any April Fools pranks myself, however there is a funny story told by Swedish relatives (My mother was Swedish and I have a lot of cousins in Sweden). Way back on April 1, 1962 there was one Swedish TV station, SVT. At that time, they only broadcast in black and white. So that day the station put their technical expert on their news show to announce that due to new technology, viewers could convert their set to receive color by putting a nylon stocking over the screen, and reportedly, many Swedes were taken in – with people running all over the house searching for nylon stockings. Actual color broadcasting in color started in Sweden on April 1, 1970.

Do you have a favorite April Fool’s Day prank or story?   

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Thanks, Chris, for giving us a few laughs at a time when we can use really use them!

  2. Gayle Lynds

    What an amazing history. I had no idea! And I really enjoyed the terrific examples of pranks. Fun!

  3. Lisa Black

    I love the story about the McDonald’s speaker😆!! Many times I’ve wanted to tell teens: there’s a reason we elders tell you to listen to what we say!

  4. Valerie

    I'm not crazy about pranks being played on me either, but I will admit that I loved Candid Camera since the pranks were on others. Someone sent me a virtual April Fools image today – a large box of Dunkin Donuts. When the lid opened, the sign inside said, April Fools! And by the way, that car with all the toilet paper is probably worth a million bucks today!